Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is expected on Thursday to address the growing controversy over the decision by one of his top aides and close associates to deliberately snarl traffic for millions of commuters as an act of political vengeance, even as the United States attorney’s office is expected to open an inquiry into the matter.
After months of denying that anyone in his administration or campaign played any role in the lane closings, which resulted in a traffic nightmare last September on the George Washington Bridge, the governor is scheduled to hold a new conference at 11 a.m., one day after a release of emails and texts showing members of his administration and others were deeply involved. The scandal has presented the governor with the gravest political challenge of his career.
Federal prosecutors in New Jersey will begin a preliminary inquiry into the lane closures in Fort Lee, according to a law enforcement source.
A source with knowledge of the plans said that the United States attorney for New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, would announce the investigation on Thursday morning.
The decision to open an inquiry came after the matter was referred to the office by the inspector general for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge, the source said.
The fallout from the release of the emails, which are as brazen as they are blunt, reverberated nationally, threatening to undermine the political future of Mr. Christie, one of the leading figures in the Republican Party and a likely candidate for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016.
Mr. Christie, who is said to be furious over the growing scandal and the damage it has already done to his carefully cultivated public image, has vowed to hold his staff accountable for any role in the lane closings.
The controversy showed no signs of abating, with New Jersey Democrats vowing to subpoena everyone mentioned in the emails. The state assembly also still has thousands of pages of unreleased internal documents from an earlier subpoena, which could continue to produce more embarrassing revelations.
Until Wednesday, Mr. Christie adamantly denied that his administration had anything to do with the lane closings.
He mocked questions about the matter, joking that he himself was out on the roadways moving around orange traffic cones.
But with the events on Wednesday showing that a top aide to Mr. Christie ordered the lanes closed, a traffic jam in Fort Lee has turned into a political firestorm.
The usually outspoken governor canceled all of his planned events for the day and did not issue a statement until late in the evening.
“I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge,” Mr. Christie’s statement said.